Kentucky’s Constitution requires a system of free public schools, but that is probably a surprise to most parents. On December 9, 2008, the Kentucky Office of Education Accountability (OEA) reported to the legislature’s Education Assessment and Accountability Review Subcommittee that most schools charge students widely varying amounts for dues, fees and supplies. The OEA also noted that there are inadequate standards and no real accounting for these programs, and that federal laws are being violated.
Parents get hit with all sorts of school expenses. For example, Kentucky’s schools require parents to spend personal money for student supplies such as pencils, paper, glue and scissors.
In addition, schools often collect fees and dues for such things as clubs, parking, and team memberships. Examples cited in the OEA’s presentation included an average fee to join middle school dance teams of $190 (Yes, that is only the average) and a nearly as high $165 average fee for a middle school student who wants to be a cheerleader. Furthermore, data I extracted from Table 3.7 in the OEA report (Report not yet on line — see the table below) shows that per-pupil fees can be very different even in schools with generally equal poverty rates (note the three high schools highlighted with the red arrows — eligibility for the federal free and reduced cost lunch program is a commonly used indicator of student poverty rates)
Detailed information about the dues and fees system is lacking because the accounting of these programs is wild, uncharted territory. The OEA indicated that the Kentucky Department of Education has no standard reporting process to monitor dues and fees programs. While the OEA didn’t mention it, that opens the door for fraud and abuse, which has occurred in the past with these sorts of funds.
The OEA did mention another legal issue, saying that some schools hold student education records hostage to force parents to pay dues and fees. That, the OEA points out, is a direct violation of the federal Family Education Rights and Privacy Act.
The OEA also jumped on the eternal hot button topic under KERA – equity in funding for schools. With total fee revenues in the seven sample high schools running from a low of just $2,620 to an astronomically high $313,492, some kids clearly get a lot more from school than others. Thanks to the absence of reporting, the KERA funding system doesn’t see this inequity at all.
If your school charges outrageous fees, and especially if they hold student records hostage for non-payment, we’d like to hear about it. Let your legislator know, too.